Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Soccer Counts (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Written by three moms, these books demonstrate the strength of a game and the power of a good story to make connections, sustain friendships, and engage kids of all ages in the unifying experience of play.

My Name is Sangoel

by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

illustrated by Catherine Stock

Eerdmans, $17.00, Ages 6-8

Sudanese refugee Sangoel, whose father was killed in the war, leaves the refugee camp and arrives by “sky boat” in the United States with his Mama and younger sister, Lili. They learn to cross the street safely, eat with forks, and use the phone. But the doctor, the teacher and even the soccer coach cannot pronounce his name correctly.

Veteran author/illustrator Stock chooses both vivid and muted colors to convey the contrast between the refugee camp and the busy, noisy US city with its cold weather, and crowds. The sunlit illustrations, showing Sangoel acting on his “bright” idea follow immediately after the dark despair of the shadowed bedroom, where dreams disturb his sleep. This juxtaposition increases the power of the text and escalates the impact of the story’s climax.

With a deft combination of dialog and narrative, the authors show readers the enormous changes Sangoel and his family experience. Although he feels the freedom and openness in the US, Sangoel also suffers what feels like the loss of his name. Coming as a refugee without a country or even a home, pride in his Dinka name is nearly the only inheritance that survives of Sangoel’s knowledge about himself.

Sparked by Lili, Sangoel takes an idea from his soccer team shirt, and using an almost-white shirt from the bag of donated clothing, fashions a message about his name. Under the words, My name is, he draws a sun above a soccer ball in the goal net. When his classmates solve the rebus-like sentence on his shirt, correctly pronouncing Sun-goal, they each begin to create a name rebus. The teacher’s approving comment supplies the quiet Sangoel with a chance, finally, to explain the value of his name. (Using simple language, a brief Author’s Note at the end explains what can cause people to become refugees and why the ancestral name can be important.)


by Mina Javaherbin

illustrated by A. G. Ford

Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 7-9

In a South African township alley, six boys play soccer with a ball won by the one who is its owner, as a “prize for being the best reader in class.” They kick, they dribble, they run, they shoot for their goal, between two dented water buckets. They are champions, even in streets that are not safe.

They take turns guarding against ruffians by drawing sticks. But when Badu, the rooftop guard, jumps down to help solve a disagreement about a corner kick, bullies on bikes arrive to steal the ball.

Iranian immigrant and debut picture book writer Javaherbin, uses short, staccato sentences to energize a story with universal appeal. While repetitive language reinforces safety issues, oil paintings show brilliant blue skies, and varied textures -- of the dusty street, the proud new black and white patches on a federation-size football, and even the beat-up shanties.

Although conversation drives the story, the illustrations supply skin tones to reflect the sun’s glow, as body postures and faces reflect laughter, fear, intimidation, and especially triumph. Together, painting and text create a strong picture book whose resilience lies not only in the friendship among the boys, but also in the magic of the world’s most popular team sport. An Author’s Note is appended.

Pelé King of Soccer

by Monica Brown

Illustrated by Rudy Gutiérrez

HarperCollins, $17,99, Ages 5-9

Beginning in the middle of a game, just as the featured soccer player is about to score, this book about the life of Brazil’s superstar shifts easily between commentary about specific games, and following him from his early days as a shoe-shine boy on the streets of Três Corações, helping his family earn money. His relationship with his father, the times he and his friends played soccer – sometimes with a grapefruit or an old sock, stuffed with newspapers, sometimes barefoot – and including his invitation to try out for a professional team at the age of fifteen, are all highlighted.

Combining the award-winning talents of author Brown and artist Gutiérrez, this fast moving biography features Pelé’s famous bicycle kick. Also, playing with his team and winning the first World Cup for Brazil at the age of seventeen, traveling all over the world to play and teach soccer, and scoring his one thousandth goal are emphasized.

Gutiérrez uses bold, sunlit colors and curved lines to frame the words of this bilingual picture book in English and Spanish. He energizes Brown’s already lively text by pulling and stretching images of city streets, balls, Pelé himself, stadiums, and even the word, GOAL. Primitive designs, plus smaller images of people’s faces – some famous -- add action to this book about a remarkable player and a beloved game.

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